ISSUE 8 | WINTER 2010
Cover Photography by Scott Shibuya Brown ÂŠ December 31, 2010 by Kartika Review
Kartika Review publishes literary fiction, poetry, and non-fiction that endeavor to expand and enhance the mainstream perception of Asian American creative writing. The journal also publishes book reviews, literary criticism, author interviews, and artwork, turning its focus on works relevant to the Asian Diaspora or authored by individuals of Asian descent.
MISSION STATEMENT Kartika Review serves the Asian American community and those involved with Diasporic Asian-inspired literature. We scout for compelling Asian American creative writing and artwork to present to the public at large. Our editors actively solicit contributions from established virtuosos in our community in hopes their works here will inspire the next generation of virtuosos. We also showcase emerging writers and artists we foresee to be the future powerhouses of their craft. Ultimately, Kartika strives to create a literary forum that caters to and celebrates the wordsmiths of the Asian Diaspora.
ISSUE 8 | WINTER 2010
MANAGING EDITORS Lloyd Liu Sunny Woan FICTION EDITOR Christine Lee Zilka POETRY EDITOR Kenji Liu CREATIVE NON-FICTION EDITOR Jennifer Derilo
TABLE OF CONTENTS ISSUE 08 | WINTER 2010 Editorial
Christine Lee Zilka
Slowed Time, Normal Time
Creation Myth; with Original Score
No Fishing or Crabbing
Alleys of Gion
Scott Shibuya Brown
holi lovesport stains (krishna-lila)
My Daughter At 18
An Uncle Breaks the Silence:
Just One Song
By: Kenji Liu
Evolution of an Illness
WRITER INTERVIEW Interview with Suheir Hammad END NOTES Contributor Bios
ISSUE 8 | WINTER 2010
EDITORIAL Sunny Woan
December 31, 2010
At 6 a.m. this morning I sat down at the kitchen table with a mug of joe and the galley proofs for Issue 8. And then I was blown away. The selected pieces truly represent the best and the brightest. I admire every one of our writers and thank them for their contributions to Kartika. As we have discovered in past issues, a theme runs through the pieces, always by serendipity. This issue’s theme is family, a collection of stories and poems about mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, aunties and uncles. The fiction section begins with “Slowed Time, Normal Time” by up and coming writer Matthew Salesses. His piece is my favorite work from this issue. “Slowed Time” is about a boy, about the cultural gap between his mother and his classmates, and him in between. It is a story that will resonate with many of you, as it certainly did with me. Salesses’ writing is clean, clear, and pitch perfect. I know I will be reading his novel in print someday. Then we have Liz Iversen’s “Creation Myth; with Original Score,” a story of truths that seamlessly blend Philippine folklore, modern history, and cultural movements—a story about how one individual narrator is one world is one pause, one caesura, is one eternity; concrete is void, and vice versa; music is silence, and tacit is part of the music. Iversen is a pioneer with her writing style and artistic sensibilities. The third fiction piece selected is by a promising young writer, Krupa Harishankar. “No Fishing or Crabbing” pushes you to ask yourself: Are you a fish content to live in a fountain on a university campus, or do you “long for the ocean”? Read Harishankar’s beautifully spun tale and recall some of your own blunderings through college. Echoing themes explored by Iversen, the poem “holi lovesport stains (krishna-lila)” by Rajiv Mohabir touches on dichotomies and dualities. Mohabir’s work is so intense with its imagery that I can visualize every flash of concept in “holi lovesport stains.” His poem calls to mind a modernist painting: in the background, a mosaic of abstracts on family tensions and heritage, and in the foreground, reflections, possibly phantasms, on pain and pleasure. Peggy Lee’s piece, “Dad” prompts me to think of my own family relationships. Lee possesses an impressive talent for descriptions, and her poetry brings the reader into her reminiscence; you, too, will feel the hot seatbelt on you, the dry air inside a car as you sit with Dad eating sponge cakes, butter coconut cookies, and egg tarts. Lee’s piece is a drawn out exhale, a flash of childhood memories playing out in slow motion; this is a story about a daughter writing about her father. After Lee, we have a contribution by notable writer, memoirist, and poet David Mura, who offers a flip on Lee’s “Dad,”—“My Daughter at 18” is about a father writing about his daughter. Beyond the family themes, “My Daughter at 18” is also about our future, about the next generation of Asian American leaders; about, quite possibly, our first Asian American Supreme Court Justice. David, our fingers are crossed.
Another one of my favorites is Michelle Chen’s “An Uncle Breaks the Silence: Evolution of an Illness.” There were so many great one-liners in this piece, following a memorable opening visual of Uncle with his “cheeks pulled into a smile so forced, it must be sincere.” Chen’s work compels us to look hard at the aloof manner in which Asian families deal with illness, especially illnesses with no cure. Ranjani Murali’s “Just One Song” is about a singer, about music lessons, on “no” and “yes,” and on how the arts is often viewed by Asian families as a spectacle, and how a beautiful female singer is the greatest spectacle of all. Murali tries to seize back control of it all by refusing to sing on cue, to refuse to be an exhibit. What’s more, one of the most intriguing characters in this issue is Murali’s grandmother, with her grey top bun and bejeweled fingers. (Our CNF editor Jenn did a superb job hand-picking these wonderful gems!) Rounding out a fabulous non-fiction section is Emi Hattori’s “Loose Change,” a piece that sheds light on the eastern philosophy of death not as an end, but as a transformation. “Loose Change” is nestled around the 49th day after the passing of Hattori’s father. Japanese Buddhists believe that on the 49th day after death, a soul will take its new form pursuant to the karma it accrued during life. Hattori’s work is an ode rich in symbolism, an exquisite tribute to a lost loved one, a memoir about loose change. This issue also features an interview with poet, author and political activist Suheir Hammad. When our poetry editor Kenji told us he would be interviewing Hammad for this issue, I was giddy. Hammad’s narrative songs of resilience and peace pull me into a transcendent dimension, a heightened state of awareness. I become inspired by and enamored of Hammad every time I watch her perform on Def Poetry Jam. She is a regal, dynamic figure, both in person and in print. Like me, you will probably turn to read her interview first. Finally, our featured artist in this issue is Scott Shibuya Brown, who presents a remarkable photo essay, “Alleys of Gion.” Gion, traditionally Kyoto, Japan’s “pleasure quarters,” is said to be the birthplace of kabuki. The district’s dark, narrow alleyways offer a tantalizing array of bars and teahouses. Brown’s photography deftly captures the essence of Gion. Issue 8 is going to be our fiction editor Christine’s last issue. She will be passing her editor torch on to another Kartikian, but will always remain a part of our journal. Her contributions cannot be quantified because, frankly put, none of this would have been possible without her. I asked her to write us a farewell editorial, which turned out to be another one of my favorite reads from this issue and also by chance touches on family themes. While we bid Christine adieu, we welcome a new managing editor, Lloyd Liu, who helped put this issue together. And now: Happy Reading!
ISSUE 8 | WINTER 2010
FAREWELL EDITORIAL Christine Lee Zilka Dear Readers, I am not good at saying farewells. I am the one who, when facing an ending, whether the situation be a friend moving elsewhere, or the finale of a romantic relationship, or in this case, the closing of my tenure as Fiction Editor, would rather giggle and say, “See you later!” or just disappear without explanation, rather than look you in the eye and say, “Good-bye.” But—this is good-bye. This Winter 2010 issue is my last as Kartika’s Fiction Editor. And right now, just to illustrate my very point, I’m stifling fake laughter, and an urge to tell you a joke. Instead, I’ll tell you a story. I remember the last time I saw my maternal grandmother alive. I could smell the end of her vitality; she smelled like the insides of a closet that hadn’t been opened in years, the contents clean but lacking any single, discernable odor. She had suffered a fall at 94 years old and would be unable to walk, mostly confined to her bed, for the rest of her life. My cousin had taken her on a trip in the recent past to see flowers at a Seoul arboretum, carrying her on his back the entire time, the roles reversed from forty years prior. She could not stop talking about the flowers, about pink azaleas and how she wished to see the yellow forsythia in Spring. Her talk was nostalgic, her stories set in the long gone past, and I could sense a theme of…good-bye. As I sat next to her on the ondol floor, she turned to the dresser behind her and gave me items that she would never have given me had she planned on living much longer, including a 24 karat gold ring from her childhood, soft like cold butter. She gave me a bag of old coins. She gave me cloth that she had woven herself before “the War,” as all Koreans call the Korean War. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to acknowledge what was obviously a farewell. I just nodded and whispered my thank yous. At the airport, when it came time for me to leave Seoul, my relatives gathered to bid me off from my three-month stay, and we had our usual lunch at the now-defunct Kimpo International Airport, prolonging every moment together. Several of my aunts, uncles, and cousins were there, with various send-offs: be good, study well, don’t get fat, come back soon, and promise me you’ll come back soon. I was quieter than usual, because deep down inside, I knew there was one person I would never see again—my grandmother, who was at home unable to see me off at the airport. In the hubbub of family gathering, no one noticed that I was subdued.
When it came time for me to head towards the gate, I remember looking back before walking through the sliding doors. My family was there, my tiny aunts leaning forward and waving with the ferocity of six year olds. I never looked back again, and I walked forward, my eyes welling with tears, walking away and refusing to wave good-bye. My grandmother died within the year. Over the years, I have learned that it is important to say goodbye. Enough sudden deaths of loved ones in my life have taught me that saying good-bye is a privilege. And so, after I discussed my resignation with Sunny, our founding editor, she offered up the opportunity for me to say farewell in this issue, my last with Kartika Review. I immediately said yes. I want to thank you, my fellow staff and Kartika’s readers, for a fantastic ride. I joined for many reasons: because I wanted to do something for my community, because I wanted to gain insight into what goes on in the selection process, because I wanted to see what it was like to sit on the other side of the publishing process, and because I wanted to build new relationships, for starters. I emerge enlightened by my role and by all the pieces you’ve honored me with reading. I loved conducting interviews with all the generous writers who gave us their time and wisdom without pay or reward other than helping a fledgling literary magazine, and I will continue to support Kartika. It is a friendly parting—there aren’t many of those in life, and I am grateful for this gentle parting, one that occurred because my schedule no longer provided me with enough time for me to write and be Fiction Editor. In the end, I decided that Kartika deserved more than what I could give, as did my novel-in-progress. But good-byes also mean hellos—I am going to do all that you do: make more time for my writing. I look forward to going back to the other side. My best to all of you and to Kartika Review, Christine
ISSUE 8 | WINTER 2010
SLOWED TIME, NORMAL TIME Matthew Salesses
I wanted to do a movie for my school project. In the past, I'd always worked with Pear, who was a good filmmaker, like my mother had been, and the only Japanese kid I knew who admired her old-fashionedness. But now my mother was dying, and as if it were a side effect, she kept becoming more Japanese and trying to make me more like her. This time, I asked the teacher if I could be partners with Johnny, a big white kid who wore a lot of leather. I wanted to do a film where the camera spun around me as I talked, a dizzying sensation where I was at the center of things, for once. Pear and I had experimented with this the week before. He'd done one shot, a quick spin around me, that made me look romantic. Johnny wanted to make our film in a rough, jagged-edged way I would later learn to call naturalistic. My mother and Pear liked to film quiet observations, as if they were of a different world than the subject. My mother was in an origami phase then. The doctor had prescribed relaxation through concentration, something that didn't make sense to me, and my aunt across the Pacific had sent an origami book. Since my mother wasn't making films anymore, it gave her something artistic to do. She had a natural ability, though she'd learned as a child. She made things that weren't even in the instructions, more and more elaborate. Once, she'd spent the entire day making an armchair, and when I returned from school and tested it, it didn't even collapse as paper should. She seemed to have an almost magical talent. Now she handed me an origami backpack and put me on the bus. I didn't want to wear it, but I'd been doing most of the things my mother asked since the diagnosis. At school, I felt everyone laughing. Pear secretly sketched my mother's design in his notebook. I wanted to point this out so that the bullying could be shared, but I knew I'd already hurt him by not asking him to be my partner. I knew I would get the worst of the bullying at recess, and I wanted my new partner, Johnny, to protect me. I'd seen him protect the too-smart kid who had skipped two grades and didn't have any friends. Johnny had stood in front of the kid's attackers and sworn beautifully in all these words I knew I wasn't supposed to understand. I positioned myself beside his group of friends—a bunch of half-grunge kids in tight outfits—and buried my head in the backpack. I poked at a wet spot where my lunch had been until I made a small hole. Then I noticed the messages. My mother had written all over the insides. She must have hidden the messages because she didn't want to embarrass me. The pencil lead rubbed off on my hands and I read the gray erasable love. I put the backpack back on, and as soon as I did, I felt myself lifted up by it—I was always small—and knew the bullying had begun. I looked out across the playground and saw Pear drawing. Johnny and his friends continued to talk.
At home, I told my mother the backpack had caught fire in chemistry. I couldn't explain the black eye. She babied me and knew what had happened. She poured a bath and put a paste over my eye and sang to me in Japanese. I was so angry at my love for her that I couldn't sleep, and only in the morning did I remember it was Saturday. It felt like it was going to be another school day, all over again. My mother cautiously tried to joke. She made me a pair of origami pancakes but real baconâ€”my favorite. I drank a glass of milk and stared at its paper-whiteness staining the bottom of the cup. When Johnny called, I ran out with the script I'd prepared. The sky was clouding over and I wanted to get the shot quicklyâ€”but then I remembered my face. I told Johnny he had to be the one in the middle. He pointed the camera at me and said this atmosphere was perfect: my bruised face, the dark light, a mist rising. It was the opposite of what I'd wanted, though it was what I should have expected when I chose him. As he filmed me, I tried not to cry. He smiled and patted me on the cheek like I was his kid. We got a few steps from where we were before I stole the camcorder and smashed it against a tree. I didn't care that it wasn't mine. The images on it were mine and I wouldn't let them go out into the world. I ran home as Johnny gathered the pieces, swearing those beautiful swears. My mother took one look at me and was on the phone, and fifteen minutes later, Pear was there, manipulating the shot we'd made before, slowing it into a waltz around my unbeaten face, recording my voice on top. The slowed time of the spinning shot against the normal time of my voice made it seem as if time wasn't an issue to the me in the film, as if everything could easily stop or be sped up. My mother folded paper, watching us. Pear edited the film to my specifications. When we were almost finished, my mother tied a simple white paper crane on top of my head with a ribbon that went around my chin. It was so simple and beautiful and I hated my love of it. "Too Japanese," I said. She smiled faintly and went to remove it, but as I noticed Pear sketching in the corner, I put my hand over hers. Later, I would get the sketch from him. Later, I would want to remember that my mother's magic had once been real.
Matthew Salesses was born in Korea. He is the author of a chapbook, We Will Take What We Can Get, and stories in or forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Witness, Pleiades, American Short Fiction, Mid-American Review, The Literary Review, and others. He edits Redivider.
ISSUE 8 | WINTER 2010
CREATION MYTH, WITH ORIGINAL SCORE Liz Iversen
When the world begins there is no land; only sea and sky, and between them is a kite. (A kite is a bird something like a hawk.) Before the kite becomes a bomb, silver flashes across the sky and Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” is performed by the Philharmonic. Meanwhile, I am washing dishes at the Road Kill Café. Lumawig, the Great Spirit, comes down from the sky. His hair looks just like Luke Wilson’s, and for a second I am sure it is him. Though I quickly realize that it’s not, I nonetheless offer him a seat. In his chair he begins to read to me aloud from GQ. For him I put on a show with my handmade sponge puppets. (I once saw this done in a museum.) Lumawig says, “Let us make some people out of wax.” Then my iPod malfunctions and will play nothing but T. Rex. I form a French maid with red lips and an apron. When I show him, he melds her legs into a nun’s habit. I receive a fan letter from a prison inmate. Static crackles against cement walls. My people float on lily-pad feet, while Lumawig’s people have toenails like teacups. I air songs with words banned during daytime hours. Inmate #—— (HU-4) signs all his letters . I always thought the red Sour Patch kids were cherry, but when blindfolded I can’t taste the difference. I remember when my handwriting was so neat, I dotted i’s with circles and crossed t’s at 90 degrees. We look at our work and see that what we made was good. When the sun rises it melts the wax, and we see that men cannot be made that way. I wonder, what is the purpose of a four-post bed to a person with more than four hats? Lumawig says there is art to aiming a gun. When dancing one must lead. When everything is music, everything makes sense. : subito—suddenly : caesura—a long pause : tacit—silent When everything is Apocalypse Now, it is improvised in the editing room. : the spontaneous combustion of palm trees : a ceiling fan/a helicopter : Martin Sheen contemplating blood+hand. Jim Morrison sings. A MacGuffin is a Hitchcockian invention. Spaces spell your FACE. A child is hit riding his bicycle in Sarajevo and Annie Liebowitz sets up her camera. On the second day Lumawig descends from heaven a 65-million year-old dinosaur. In the state capitol an archaeologist examines his remains like a war photographer with a pinhole camera. Poor Uncle Wiggily. I remember all the things we didn’t do before he died. We were going to eat sushi off a Japanese girl’s belly. We were going to create
a viral video cut together from C-SPAN footage. A montage of senators shifting around in their seats with fart sounds to the tune of the “Star Spangled Banner.” “The FartSplattered Banner.” That’s what we were going to call it. In Filipino creation myth, men are created from bamboo. (Note: this species of bamboo is not to be confused with “lucky bamboo,” which is found in gift shops alongside pastel trinkets and whose luck-giving abilities apply only when grouped together in odd-numbered multiples. Beware of the duo bamboo!) In Filipino creation myth, my mother comes to America to wait tables at the Tee-Pee Restaurant. (Note: During the filming of Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner wanders in for a meal between takes. By Divine Intervention or some stroke of magic, he is seated at my mother’s table. As she stands before him his eyes do not leave the menu yet he becomes aware of her crown of feathers. She says, “Hello. Are you ready to order?” He hears, “We are Indian. See our tee-pee?”) My mother’s culture comes to me in fragments: Imelda Marcos was —— and she owned hundred pairs of shoes. That thing she cooks is called adobo and it is the national dish. Filipinos speak English too! In fact, English is their national language. According to legend, Lumawig rises from the dead to fashion people from sprigs of bamboo. He cuts each green stem into pairs—one piece becomes woman, the other man. To each pair, he says, “You must speak.” “I can’t,” she says. “It tickles.” The trouble of sex without foreplay. At Easter, men align themselves for crucifixion on the cross. In this all humans are the same: blind, awkward, embarrassing creatures bumbling our way through life. When Lumawig’s children become too plentiful to manage, he seizes his 9 iron and beats them from all sides. (I see this on CNN in the breaks between Lewinsky and OJ Simpson.) Frightened, the children flee in all directions. They search for hidden rooms where they can hide in the house. Some hide in the walls, some run outside. Others hide in the fireplace, and some flee to the sea. One is locked in the basement and goes undiscovered for years. When he is found he sells his story to Guillermo del Toro, who later produces The Orphanage. When the job is finished Lumawig walks down the street, leaning as if into a mighty wind. Meanwhile, in California, I lift to my lips a bite of steaming salmon served on a bed of my hypocrisy. After lunch I meet my cousins in black and white. I purchase their book: The Children: Migrants and Refugees, and they sit on my coffee table, untouched. Years pass and I do not hear from Lumawig. Then one morning over coffee I stumble across this: Now it happened that those children who concealed themselves in the walls became slaves. Those who ran outside were free men; and those who hid in the fireplace became negroes; while those who fled to the sea were gone many years, and when their children came back, they brought Gucci bags and were the white people. I am as old as Lumawig was when we met when I encounter him for the last time. On Free Tuesday at the MOMA, I catch a glimpse of his larger-than-life nude body across the empty room. There he is, splaying his splendor in the Fieldturf of Fenway Park. I have never
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known him to be a baseball fan, and the caption does nothing to clarify matters. It reads only this: A checkerboard design is created by passing over grass in side-by-side rows first, then in perpendicular stripes. In this way, you alternate the way the grass bends. When you look at your lawn, the stripes of grass leaning away from you will look lighter. This lighter green is caused by the sunlight reflecting off the entire blade of grass. In the darker green stripes, formed by the blades of grass leaning toward you, the sunlight is reflecting only off the tips of the blades. I hear something then, something like a voice. I turn my head expecting Lumawig but he is not there. In the course of eternity I stand still; meanwhile the room begins filling with static. I do not notice it at first, it trickles in so softly. I make a move toward the door but it is already too late. I look around and see at once that I am buried. The static pours over my feet, it flutters against my arms. In this manner the created world is destroyed. Concrete walls echo in its void, the memory of music.
Liz Iversen obtained her M.A. in English: Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her writing and photography have been published in SF Weekly and The Deli SF, an online local music magazine. As an undergraduate at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Iversen was the News Director for the campus radio station, KCOU 88.1 FM-Columbia. She has also worked in television production and as a videographer and video editor. Currently, she teaches a journalism class online and is the Online Coordinator for the Academy of Art University.
NO FISHING OR CRABBING Krupa Harishankar If you clap, the gold and orange fish will come towards you, hoping you have some food for them. Knowing this, stand by the three tiered fountain outside your biology lab and clap. As predicted, the fish come, though you have nothing for them. They ask you questions sometimes, the other students in your lectures, as they swim out of the doorways and into the halls. But mostly, it’s “What time is it? Did we run over again?” Try to say that it’s still early; try to think of something engaging to say in addition, even in response to this, a question that requires you to have no personality, only an answer. In the end, do not come up with anything at all, not even the time, until the moment passes. The fish are captivating—another way they differ from you. They have managed to make their presence felt from within the confines of these grainy cement basins. Suppose they do not long for the ocean as you do. No, the fish are content to glimmer in the sunshine that plays across the water’s surface. Realize iridescent days like these are rare at home, but do not allow yourself to enjoy the thought. Instead, wonder if the proper word is were. That city is not your home anymore. The place cannot be as you remember it, but it still exists, leaving you stuck between the past and present tenses. It was often hazy there. Your mother used to say that was because the peasants were burning debris in the countryside, and you think that must be what her mother told her, too. But you both knew better, that construction projects and factories created the gray fog that made your home country unfamiliar, separated you from it before you even left. Admit that it’s clear here, but do not grant any measure of beauty to the land. The flowers have different names, harsh words on the tongue, and the rain doesn’t smell the same when it hits this foreign soil. Stare at the water in the fountain, searching it for other ways to convey what you haven’t been able to say. Blame the fish, twisting to the surface, for your inability to bring yourself to speak a word of English. Imagine what you would say if you could talk to them, how easily you would slide through the water, navigate the vast blue. This is what you have been trying to do for months. You have been standing beside this fountain, commanding these fish as if they could help you get through the days, when really they are just a means of procrastination. You had plans for your time here. You would attend an American university and find an ocean of opportunity, or at the very least, gaze upon the sea from its opposite shores. None of this has happened. Procrastination—it’s the longest English word you know, and you know it well. You are doing nothing here, simply biding your time. But for all that is unrecognizable, you know these fish. You used to have a pond full of them. There were also—search for it—lilies. Feel triumphant not because you’ve recalled the word, but because you can picture the white and pink speckled flowers growing around the fish pond of your childhood home. All your earliest memories— playing in the grass as Mother tended the garden, or watching at the window for
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Father to stride up the walk—are from your first home. Remind yourself that you haven’t been there in a long while. The house isn’t yours anymore. Still, hold on to the feeling that, for a time, the fish belonged to you and you to them. Hear the clock tower chime from afar, signaling the hour and the start of lab, drowning out the sound of your ridiculous clapping. The fish gape as you pass them. And when you step into class two minutes late, the other students look up, staring at you just as the fish did. At night, return to your single room at the end of the hall. Unlock the door, slip in, and push the door shut behind you. Immediately begin getting ready for bed. Hope no one will knock. You are not lucky. Someone pounds on the door, shouts for you. Skip a breath. You are startled by the sudden noise, the disruption of your otherwise quiet existence, more than by any harshness in the muffled voice from the hall. Tell your feet to move to the door. Still, in the authoritative tone, you hear vestiges of something familiar. Back away towards the window. You recognize the voice. During orientation, he’d stuck out his hand and called himself your RA. The blank look on your face, or your neglecting to shake his hand, must have given you away because he’d expanded—Residential Advisor. Then it was your turn to speak. You should have introduced yourself, nonchalantly saying your English was good, but adding—with a laugh—that your acronyms were not. A culture thing you’d soon get used to. Instead of saying any of this, though, you’d frozen, finding yourself unable to speak to the first person you met, too embarrassed to say a word. He thumps the door a few more times. Stare out the window, caught in the same frightened pause. Listen. The door shakes in its frame; he yells your name—all in order to invite you to a hallway dinner out. Breathe a sigh of relief, the loudest noise you’ve made yet, but don’t respond. Hate the way he, and all of them, everyone who tries to talk to you, forces you to think about the words you want to say but can’t. A part of you wants to accept the invitation. Another part wants only to climb out the window, to escape. Open the door. Swing it wide, ready to say you’ll go, but your RA has left, is already at the end of the hall, talking with a group about the night’s plans. Try to tell them to wait, because you’re supposed to be giving this new environment a chance—or was it that you’d been given a chance? You aren’t sure which. Your academic advisor typed one of these phrases in an email, the only means of communication between the two of you as of yet. But the RA went out of his way; you can see he’s dropping you a line, pulling you out of what could be… What could it be? A straggler, sprinting after the group, breaks your thoughts. Your RA looks back and sees you standing in the doorway. His glance and the effortless words of the guy now with the group—could he still go?—are enough to bring back the weight, like a thousand tons of water crashing over your chest. Don’t say anything; no words of explanation come. Instead, step back into the room, feeling heat rise in your cheeks. Shut the door, lock it, and walk back to the window, opening it a crack. It will not open any further, not like the windows in the flat you shared with Mother after
leaving your first home. It turned out those windows opened all the way. That would be fixed later. There could not be much noise in that small apartment on the 15th floor of a brand new high rise. The building had 28 stories in all, but for all those floors and apartments, you never once caught a glimpse of any other children there. You played quietly on your own. Mother did not like slammed doors or banged pots and pans, but it was the summer of 1989 and you were four years old, almost too big for those kinds of games anyway. You did not complain. Nothing was unbearable, except maybe the heat. Mother usually insisted upon keeping all the windows closed because she did not deem the apartment high enough to escape the noise of the bustling street beneath. You were relieved when she decided to open a window. Then it was no longer the heat which was unbearable. Occasionally, though, you confuse the order of things. You don’t enjoy going to sleep because you do not know where you are when you wake. You could find yourself in the flat, that quiet place where Mother tried to hide away from all the noise, or you could be in your grandparents’ house in the south part of the city, where you lived afterwards. But sometimes you are back in your earliest childhood home, that lost remnant of old Beijing. Choose, as always, to linger there, watching Mother make dumplings in the evening, hearing Father read the newspaper aloud, mostly to himself. You were too young to care for anything but playing with the fish in your beautiful garden, back when there could be grass and greenery in the center of the city, right beside Tiananmen Square. But you are confusing memories again. Lose your place in time. Do not remember. You do not remember—but what would you remember if you could? Wake in your bed and realize that, although you can’t remember any of it, you have gone through the motions of setting the alarm and lying down. Recognize your dorm room by the dim light on your desk which you have forgotten to switch off, the faintly musty scent left by a previous occupant, the sporadic shouts of drunks staggering down the hall. College life has continued while you were sleeping. Beijing, too, has continued on with life, though neither you nor Mother is there to witness it. You do not know what is happening in the city that is no longer your city. Your grandmother, Mother’s mother, passed away soon after you left. She always said she would stay on only to see your safe departure, but you never believed her. You should have known. She was a woman with little room in her life for jest, or perhaps she’d only become this way when saddled with another child to raise in old age. Try not to feel guilty for missing the funeral. Grandmother, like Mother, had always hoped you wouldn’t have to stay. Anyway, Grandmother’s was a natural death. You’ve long accepted elderly exhaustion as a part of life. Youthful exhaustion, however…For most of your 19 years, you believed youth should never be exhausted, decided this following the only funeral you’ve ever attended. But having come here, you are no longer sure what your convictions are. Remember the first time you felt truly exhausted. It was after the flight that, because of the time change, brought you to America before the hour of your departure from home. It was as if the 15 hours you had spent preparing never happened at all. You’d
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intended to use the flight time to memorize Grandmother’s parting message, something about luck now being on your side, but you couldn’t remember exactly what she said. You lost her words in time, became lost in time instead of gaining it. The last thing you remember is waving goodbye to Grandmother and Grandfather. Try to think practically. Sequence the events in your mind again. It will distract you from this sinking in the pit of your stomach. Grandfather must have gone to live with your father after Grandmother passed on. Grandmother had arranged as much, though you did not hear of Grandfather’s arrival from Father. You hardly speak to Father. You find it difficult to picture what he must look like now. This doesn’t worry you as much as Grandfather does; it is Grandfather’s memory, after all, which has faded. It has become lost in time, too—he has not recognized you or Grandmother in many years. Realize that hardly matters now, as neither you nor Grandmother are with him. Thinking practically has not worked. Make an effort to swallow. Decide you do not want to go back to sleep. Instead of switching off the lamp that has been left burning, trudge to the desk and pull out your biology notes. You have a final exam approaching. You’ve always been a good student, or else you would not be here, in America, in this shabby single room at the end of the hall. But you have never been excessively intelligent. Your one skill has always been your memory. You can not only remember what you read, but also maintain in your head—in vivid color—pictures, diagrams, scenes. Once there, these do not leave, just shift with the flow time and new information. All you need is a little jolt for the pieces to start swimming forward again. They possess a force of their own, do not deign to float passively. No, they most certainly swim. You simply have learned over the years to get the fish to swim towards you. Lately, though, you have begun wishing they wouldn’t come. Flip back, back, back. On the first page of your lab notebook, under the heading “Biology: the Study of Life,” is a drawing of a beta fish, a fighting fish. You have noted in neat English print that your fish exhibited “predatory instincts” when faced with another fish or even a mirror image of itself. Look up the meaning of “predatory instincts.” Before, you would not have thought about it; you would have gone about learning the lesson. Now, it is no longer just schoolwork. Want to understand. But you have long known about fighting fish, and the lab seems too basic. It hasn’t brought you any closer to comprehending the whir of helicopters overhead or shots heard in the night, but that was a fight, too. Believe a more fitting experiment would be to put the fish in a tank and shake the container over and over again. Would they exhibit “predatory instincts” then? Would they still fight back? Can you fight them back as they swim towards you, these slippery memories of searchlights and screams, of fish and of footsteps falling in every direction, of hands clapped over your ears and eyes? Your hands are clapped over your ears and eyes. Remove them, slowly, one after the other.
Think back to the lesson and know you must learn this one properly. It was always easier to memorize when Grandmother provided an incentive. For little things it was just a sweet treat, or a round of any game you chose. But for completing bigger tasks, you were promised a trip somewhere. You accomplished the last she asked of you. You are here. But what will be your reward this time? Another few months in this country with the open-mouthed fish and too clear skies. Besides this, you have seen America from a slew of museums that run together and the campus of your tiny, southern California college. Remain unsure of what exactly you expected. There was an orientation week for international students, consisting of various sightseeing events. You had signed up for a select few trips, mainly outdoor ones, but rains washed away your plans. The outdoor trips were cancelled, and you could not choose others once yours fell through. Fell through—it’s a phrase that’s made its way into your brain though you’ve never uttered it, much less any other phrase, sentence, or single word since coming here. What strange, silent world have you fallen through, fallen into? In the time you have been here, nearly a semester, you have found no landmarks to call your own. Except the fish fountain, of all things. More than anything, you wanted to go to the beach. Realize you could still go, could take the trip as your reward for a completed exam. Decide—you will see this side of the ocean. Promise yourself you’ll make it that far. You used to visit the beach often in China, taking day trips with Mother and Father, then eventually just Mother. But there, swimming in the ocean was illegal. The law was written when you were young, “for the citizen’s own good,” Father told you. Struggle to recall what the danger was. Your memory falters. Tell yourself the ocean was probably just a safety hazard; too many people pulled under by the waves, drowning, dying. You’d never liked swimming in the sea, anyway. The salt stuck to your skin, burning for days. But others swam, and you’d enjoyed watching the water lap against their bodies, buoying them, letting them down again. There was no uproar when the law was put in effect. The bodies simply disappeared from the water. No one talked about the change, and you didn’t want to bring it up because you hadn’t wanted to swim in the first place. But you’d loved those trips nonetheless. Feel the familiar longing swell inside your chest. Instead of studying, doodle little squiggles in the margins of your notebook and allow yourself to picture the sand, the sea. You’ve learned in class that the ocean’s salt content is much the same as that of blood—proof that life began in water. Visiting the beach will be your chance to begin again. The wave of giddiness is undeniable. Surge forward before knowing what you have done. The proctor says there is one hour and forty minutes remaining. She said. One hour and thirty nine minutes ago, she said to begin and keep an eye on the time, though you don’t know how you are expected to do this and exhibit your knowledge of biology. You have been trying to manage both, but your page is mostly empty so you have been succeeding at one rather more than the other. The first question is about activation potentials. Describe the process by which sodium ions…Know exactly how to answer. Remember. First, all the ions build up until there is
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a gradient, a critical charge. Think of it as a group with a collective, latent force, just waiting for something to happen. The crowd had been there for a long time, though you can’t recollect when or how this began. Or why. At first, the protestors’ eyes shone with excitement, and so did yours. This was something new, another sight in the square to take in as you walked alongside Mother. But many days went by and the students eventually turned languid. The resolve began to fade from their raised fists, though not from Mother’s hand, clenched tight around yours. Every day, she would leave the house, pass the fishpond and walk along the square. Father had warned her never to go near, but Mother did not hesitate. She was careful not to be seen by the policemen who dotted the square’s perimeter, or if she was seen, to simply appear a mother busy with her daily errands. She always took you with her. You were a child, innocent and beyond suspicion. But you saw, because you peeked when Mother covered your eyes as you passed a hunger striker on the verge of fainting, or when a medic carried a student away. And you knew, because you knew when to be quiet. You did not tell Father about these trips. It is inevitable that the leak channels open and the threshold is crossed. The ions invite this, though they have no idea what they’ve set into motion. First come the scuffling feet, then running, shouting, and chaos, chaos everywhere. You see those who break through the line of tanks, the lucky ones bearing only smudges of red. You hear the shouts of the others, some angry, others pleading. The gradient change takes place, the influx causing an even more violent outflow of potassium ions. Polarity is created and with it there is potential. Charges are built up and exhausted again. Find yourself exhausted again. Shiver, and realize you are drenched in a cold sweat, lost in eddies of fear. Look around without recognizing anything. Pause. Breathe. This is a test and these are nerves. Your hand shakes slightly. Remind yourself that a nerve impulse is nothing more than a traveling action potential. Attempt to write this down, but write it in Chinese first, by mistake, without noticing. Hate this forced vigilance, the need to constantly monitor yourself. Loathe that your memory is failing you. Look at the clock and count one minute of exam time remaining. It seems hopeless, now, to finish what you have started. This no longer feels like it can be completed and set away, though that is what you’ve been attempting for the last one hour and thirty nine minutes. Wonder if that’s all the time the night’s events took. As a child, you had a nightmare that lasted one hour and thirty nine minutes. Perhaps others also had modest, pleasant dreams interrupted by voices piercing the night. Maybe they too woke to find blood, fluid like ocean water, in the square. No, tell yourself you cannot know about other people. Only know that you still see the scene from fifteen years ago, always the same, every time like the first except for one detail. Now when you remember, you make Mother take your hand, lead you from the window, tell you this is a nightmare. It is the first nightmare you have had, though not the last. Mother is next to you. She has come up behind you but does not shield your eyes. You know she should tell you not to look; this is what mothers do. But Mother is not doing anything yet. She is completely frozen. You peer up at her and find she is not even looking at you. Her eyes are fixed on the barricades swiftly being constructed. This is when you first begin to feel a distance between you and Mother, but it is not until much later that the separation is made permanent. At this moment, you are still young
enough to be a part of her, to be attached to Mother’s person and not your own. This is how you know she is wishing she were out in the square, with them. A vague part of you wishes it too. More pressing are the cracking noises. You look back through the window as they begin, coming slowly at first but then with persistence. Father enters the room and in two swift strides crosses to the window. In another motion, he pulls the blinds closed. The panels make stripes across his body. Father twists all the openings shut and the shadows change, casting forward his strong, angled arms, masking his slight shoulders. He stands tall, with perfect posture made more dignified by the crisp, green government uniform he wears. You wonder why he’s dressed for work; it’s not morning, though the flashes of light and noise that woke you made you think it was at first. But Father does not explain himself and turns to go as rapidly as he came. He leaves the room, and you know Father has gone to the square, though he is not with them. Turn around and, to your surprise, see everyone in their seats, scribbling furiously in the last thirty seconds. Begin to look down at your test, only to feel Mother take your hand again, by the wrist, pinching tightly. Turn in the exam as you are dragged along. Try to walk like Mother and wonder if she knew the ways in which she would and would not return. You have done as she did, hurried to a place unknown. Find it impossible to keep to the sidewalk without running into people and cut across the grass instead. Keep going, going, going. Home is a foreign place and you do not love it. There are gaps, holes in memory, whirlpools more terrifying than the moments they swirl into. Pause before the bus station and step up to the ticketing desk. The man behind the counter stares at you a little too closely, as if to ascertain that you are really there, and then breaks out a sneer that reveals his yellowed, decaying teeth. Look away and focus instead on the little insignia on the man’s shirt. It’s a waving flag, the symbol of Liberty Line buses. Focus on the wavelet of a flag and imagine yourself asking for a ticket to somewhere, anywhere that has a beach. Instead, stick your finger on the traveler’s map of California posted next to you and point somewhere along the coast. You don’t know where you’ve pointed. The man is motionless. Feel his eyes on you, staring as if you’d said something strange. You have not said anything but are nonetheless almost used to this. Will yourself to appear unfazed by the man’s crude, unwavering gaze. Fail. Instead, anticipate seeing the ocean. You’ve been imagining it, though you’ve no recollection of it from the flight. You didn’t look for it then, the place between departure and destination. You arrived here without knowing what you passed over. Finally, the Liberty Lines man tears a ticket from the machine and mumbles a terminal number. Walk to the correct terminal in hopes of boarding the bus straight away. Do not look at the small, red piece of paper you have been given. Care neither for the addled man nor your destination. Take long strides, hoping that if you are prompt, so too will the bus arrive on time. For once, you would like the timing to be right. You are not lucky. The bus is not open for boarding right away, forcing you to wait in a dingy, concrete space for several minutes until you’re allowed to get on. Now your hair smells like cigarette ash. You do not think the scent will wash out. It is stuck with
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you, imprinted in memory. You are closer now. Something near you is burning faintly, then the odor comes more strongly, mingled with the putrid scent of blood. Mother hasn’t told you not to look, but you know you shouldn’t. Shut your eyes and lean back on the bus seat. You were a well behaved child and you listened to Mother, but there was a time Mother was no longer there, and then you couldn’t help yourself. You looked and you saw her. You see her everywhere. The pale sand is smooth like Mother’s skin; the wind rises and falls like the skirt around her knees. But Mother is most in the sea, calm and turbulent both, possessing a captivating, mercurial spirit. She will not remain spirited much longer. Even today, she only mimics her old self. She has suggested you both leave Beijing for a while and take a trip to the beach, the way you used to. But though you are only a child, you can sense why you’ve come. It’s because Mother does not want to watch all your things moved from your home with the lovely courtyard and the fish pond. She does not want to stay in the house with Father, nor does she want to leave for the apartment. So she has come to the beach, bringing you with her as always. She stands at a distance, looking out, but not at anything in particular. Not looking at you. She is beautiful, motionless except for the hair whipping all around her face. You call out to her and the moment breaks. Mother breaks. Afterwards, in the apartment, she stays in bed with the curtains drawn, and her greasy, unwashed hair falls limp across the pillow. Sometimes she drags herself around the halls, the same ragged shawl she wore into the square wrapped around her sagging shoulders. You know why. She refuses to see Father. You know why. Sometimes she comes to the doorway and stands, just staring at you, as if she has forgotten why she is there. She stands at a distance, just looking. You want to go to her, but you are getting too big to wrap your arms around her legs. Part of you is afraid you will bring her down, the way she sank to her knees in the grass beside you that night. You had never seen her do that before; you saw it when you were not supposed to be looking. You are not supposed to be here, outside in the garden, at all. Only, instead of nestling safe in bed, you followed Mother to the fish pond. You glance down into the dark mirror it has formed. The fish must be hiding; you only see your own wavering reflection and the shifting shape of Mother walking away from you. Mother leaves you there, telling you to clap for the fish, but you are distracted by the din building around you. You think the fish must be distracted, too. There is constant whirring above and searchlights cut down from the sky. Are they looking for you, you wonder? They will never find you here. But what about Mother, where is she? For a moment, you do not look up from the pond, do not realize that Father has returned to your housing compound and is speaking to you. Frantic, he demands more information than you have. You cannot even say why you are here, much less provide Mother’s whereabouts. But Father does not wait for you to come up with an answer. He sprints through the house gate, down the street, back across it. You look after him for a long while and continue staring into the black even after you lose him in it. When Father comes back with Mother, dragging her towards you by the arm, you insist you did not see what happened in the square. You did not see anything, you say, as Father slaps Mother across the face and then shakes his hand once over the pond, to be rid of the blood he has drawn from her nose. You did not see anything.
Wake with a start and realize you have been dreaming. Nightmaring. Create this word of your own accord and feel further frustrated by the English language because it doesn’t exist. Despair of words for a moment. Hold your breath to help the feeling pass, but come up for air sputtering. You are on a moving bus, though you do not know where you are headed or how long it will take you to get there. Fumble in your jacket pocket for the ticket and pull it out, looking for your destination. It doesn’t tell you. Over the information, written in black permanent marker, are the words “Go back where you came from.” Lean against the hard headrest of the bus seat and watch the scenery pass through tinted windows. Keep leaning even when the headrest begins to hurt. If only you knew where you were going; if only the place existed as it did once; if only you could see it or speak it, pull into existence. And what happens when you get there, wherever this bus is taking you? You have no contacts and nowhere to stay. But this disturbs you less than you thought it would. The bus slows and then lurches to a halt. Disembark; stride through the bus station; continue down the street; turn a corner, then another; search always for the familiar patches of blue-green. See, peripherally, bare people littered across gritty sand. Do not pause; your sneakers have begun to sink. It will be hard to get the grains out of your shoes if you do not quicken your step. This surge—did she feel it when she walked? She walked away, was swept away by undertow. There is no sand to left to stand on. The beach ends but you continue along slabs of concrete, large squares with jagged edges, brought from somewhere else and thrown together to make this bridge into the ocean. It leads nowhere. Begin to slow down only when you’ve come far enough that you no longer hear shouts and squeals from the beachfront. Notice now that there are carvings in the stone underfoot— initials linked within hearts, family names, scratches marking that someone at some time was here. Know with certainty, as if Mother had whispered it in your ear, that yours will never be a name carved in stone. It will never be permanent, the same as hers was not. But the names fade as you pass a signpost and reach the end of the pier. You have returned, will return, are returning. Stand here, like her, aware of all the ways in which you are the same. These moments could well be the same. Inch forward and watch your pale knees wobble over the rock’s edge. Gravel crackles beneath you and a few pebbles scatter, landing in the water. Your short, black hair is caught in the wind and blows out of your eyes. Peer down. Everything below has come to a halt. There is a blurry figure on the pavement, changing shape as red seeps from its edges. She shuffled towards the window, shawl askew, exposing her bare shoulders. You didn’t know she’d opened the window until distant car horns and garbled voices invaded the apartment’s silence. Too curious, you crept up behind Mother to look. You leaned over and she smiled at you, then climbed up on the window sill and jumped. You did not stop looking, could not stop looking, cannot stop looking.
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You know what comes next, know there are ways you could keep her from coming back. You remember what happened. Sit down and lean your back against the signpost that declares No Fishing or Crabbing. Hear only water beyond you, the faint crash of waves lapping, lapsing, relapsing. The ripples in the ocean coalesce like memories, putting her body back together again. Though you know how she passed on, you can see her swimming a hand’s reach away. She has always found you, her memory engulfing you, leaving no words in its wake. She has commanded you and you have been unable to answer to her. You struggle with the sounds that slip onto your tongue. How, if you could not speak to her, could you converse with anyone else? The words left unsaid rush together, churn inside you, threaten to overflow. “Goodbye.” The English syllables spill out and your voice strikes you as strange before the waves swallow it. But there are many more words yet inside you, and you no longer mind the prospect of speaking them. These words are different—they are the terms, fluid on the tongue, by which past can meet present—and they are yours. The words form a wellspring, flow on by your will. Go on. Rise, turn away, and leave her. Walk down the pier knowing she will remain here, never far away, but her memory will not follow as you take the return bus to school. Decide you’ll abandon the fish once there, but go back, so you may practice speaking foreign words.
Krupa Harishankar is an undergraduate at Columbia University. She was raised in central Ohio, but considers herself a citizen of the world community. Her writing navigates the intersection of cultural perspectives, which she also enjoys experiencing firsthand from her current neighborhood in New York City.
SCOTT SHIBUYA BROWN
ALLEYS OF GION ARTIST STATEMENT Because I am a nocturnal creature, and because I like to travel, I’ve spent a lot of time walking late at night through unfamiliar places, usually cities. For me, it’s a strange thrill being the solitary figure on the landscape and seeing things, that stripped of the context of people and lit up only by glare (no softening sunlight), project their own beauty and meaning. This is what I try to capture. The big Asian city, in particular, is rich in feeling for me. At night, absent people and all their frantic activity, these places almost seem to breathe sighs of exhaustion and relief. You can really feel this during the summer when the air is humid and the smells from the restaurants linger and the tied-up daytime refuse hasn’t yet been cleared away and the slightest sounds echo up and down the street. All in all, it’s very tranquil. Do I have to mention that I was born in the Year of the Rat? -- Scott Shibuya Brown
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Scott Shibuya Brown is author of the novel Far Afield (Red Hen Press) and the forthcoming Big in Japan. A former journalist for Time Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, his work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Atlantic Monthly and LA Weekly, among other publications. He currently teaches at California State University, Northridge, and plays in the punk band Finland Station.
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HOLI LOVESPORT STAINS (KRISHNA-LILA)
I we two drunken roses chests in ruby play swirls holi in south queens my lover has many faces i know II two full moons ring his ears. the cowlord rumbles, sapphire hurricane of yaduvansh. pichkariya,
the cowherds dandiya lovesport vermilion drama. a ballad map back to that sacred forest. a thousand pieces of the moon, krishna danced will all the girls gopiya painted emerald monsoon. in their tear-ducts, jealousyâ€™s pearls they ring his ears.
III aunties slurred behind fingers, churned milky whispers solid to shame me into diaspora. raven oceans from india, this cowherd boy, still singing kajri love songs for that flute player. abbi been left dat side long time long time what make you til now na get sense til when you go sing a-antiman song da you and he na get none rhyme none rhyme
IV in yayati’s home, i left my arms and good name at father’s feet, took up flute, tied rope in raga from cow to my own new name. mutlticolored love drops, a seven colored bow across the room ignited perfumed joy. our bodies bound by this principal. a slur. a thunderous love, i am of krishna’s line.
* my lover covered coy smiles, sunshine in coral dawn dupatta. we untucked our silk corners, sailed citrine soul to honey-wood, danced full maroon gibbous, the abir in sandal and jasmine.
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V there in fingerstrokes i painted dusk on his riverbank, but he had already stained my whole body.
Rajiv Mohabir was born in London, England and is of Indo-Guyanese descent. He immigrated to Central Florida when he was a child and later studied Religious Studies at the University of Florida. He is currently a New York City Teaching Fellow, Long Island University, Brooklyn (2008) with an M.S.Ed. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. His work has been published in Blood Lotus and Saw Palm. Pudding House Press titled him "Poet of Note" in their 2009 chapbook contest and published his first chapbook na bad-eye me in 2010. His second chapbook na mash me bone is scheduled from release by Finishing Line Press in February of 2011. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010.
DAD Peggy Lee I remember those big pink bakery boxes Filled with sponge rolls Lemon, mocha, or choco crĂ¨me freckled with chocolate sprinkles, miniature cakes with their single frosted rosebuds, dense little buttons of butter coconut cookies, egg custard tarts like bright orange suns in their white paper sleeves. There'd be an extra box for savories. Pork buns all stacked on top of each other. Each with a single wax paper square that peeled off a layer of snowy skin. The steamed dough warm and fleshy around their tangy red-cooked centers. Buns so plump and promising, you could gasp to see them peeking from Chinatown windows. Pale pillows of dough puckered at the top. Piled three feet high in circular bamboo racks to seep out a long trail of steam. Above them a rack of ducks roasted red and glistening, swooning from their rusty hooks. I used to hold your hand then and point out my wants through the glass. We'd sit afterwards with that pink box between us in your old gray LeBaron seat belts hot from the sun and those red felt seats emitting a smell both dry and worn suddenly twinged with sweetness. That was more than twenty years ago, when you and I would drive together. You'd lay your arm on my shoulder and the clumsy x of your vaccination scar
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was a pale star on your arm. I can't help but think of you as I walk through the Sunset District in the middle of the day The stalls bursting with buns and plastic displays filled with cream horns and custard buns egg yolk-glazed melon cakes leaning one on top of the other. I remember how much you loved those mung bean cakes the light green tiles on a tray that disintegrate in a sweet sand on your tongue and I think about how simple and how sweet it is to love like a little girl loves her father. How I can still be that little girl my little hand circled around your thumb.
Peggy Lee was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. She was a student of Ishmael Reed's short fiction seminar and a student teacher poet for June Jordan's Poetry for the People program at U.C. Berkeley. She has facilitated poetry writing workshops with the Poetry for the People program at U.C. Berkeley, Berkeley High School, and Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. She has also been a student of Kim Addonizio and participated in the â€œVoices of Our Nationsâ€? workshop under the guidance of Ruth Forman. Currently, she's pursuing a graduate degree in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Her poems are all dedicated to her family and June Jordan.
MY DAUGHTER AT 18: LEAVING HOME David Mura As happens with many busy teens, it’s hard sometimes to get Samantha to sit with the rest of the family for dinner. She’s head of the yearbook this year; there’s meetings she has to go to. She often says she needs to study with a friend and has to leave. Or, she’s tired, she has a headache, she’ll just eat later. Or she’s already eaten somewhere else. But we pressure her; we try not to let her slip away, aware she’s already in the process of beginning to leave. She’s looking at colleges, and has visited schools on the West Coast with her mother, on the East Coast with me. Like other parents in my situation, I can’t quite believe the time has gone by so quickly. Though we spend far less time with her now and what time we do spend feels like catching a busy CEO between meetings, I’m going to miss her. It’s not that she’s always that pleasant though or, as they say, a joy to be around. She can be quite cranky and impatient; if she needs something, like the car, she needs it five minutes ago; if she’s hungry, she can’t wait for the family dinner, she has to eat now. Her first impulse is to argue rather than find a way to reach a compromise or consensus. A friend of mine says that often a crescendo of tensions will occur with kids in the year before they leave for college. It’s their way of dealing with their own anxieties about leaving and insuring that all are ready to part come the following fall. I remember talking about when I left for college and said good-bye to my parents, I used to say it was a wonder my dad and I shook hands rather than came to blows. But the tensions between Samantha and us are far from that level, and for this, I’m grateful. Last night at dinner, she was surprisingly present and voluble. She talked about how the superintendent of schools came to her advanced social studies class. Quickly the discussion turned to race. Sam pointed out she was one of 10 students of color in a 70 person class. She said she was infuriated by the ways most of the white students viewed race relations in the school; she felt like everyone was venturing a refrain of “I’m friends with black kids, they say hi to me in the hall.” Yet if anyone had looked at the lunch room an hour earlier, she argued, they would have seen students separating themselves by race and ethnicity. Similarly there were only a couple of black kids in the class, and Sam pointed out to the class how the school tended to be segregated academically. There were few students of color in the advanced classes. Then too she felt everyone was ignoring the issue of class and how that affected the interactions within the school and, more specifically, how it affected academic tracking. “Everybody”—meaning the white kids in the class—“acted like we have this really diverse inner city school,” said Sam. “But actually we’re less diverse than many of the other Minneapolis schools. And what does this diversity mean?” She said one teacher explained the school’s diversity by saying they had some kids who would apply to Harvard and some kinds who would struggle to graduate high school. But Samantha’s point was that these two groups of students rarely interacted with each other. In some ways they might as well have been going to separate schools. She felt the white kids were incredibly naïve when they said things like, “I feel like I could sit down at any lunch table with a person of any color.” Most of them didn’t have any friends of
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color, nor had they ever talked to any of these friends about how they feel about the issues of race and class. Samantha seemed especially furious at the self-congratulatory tone she felt she heard in the remarks by middle-class white students: “Like somehow they’re better than suburban white kids. Like they’re so ghetto. ” I remarked that perhaps this was true in a way—well, maybe not their being ghetto but about their being more racially conscious. When I spoke to a college in the schools program at the University of Minnesota to students from all over the state, I noticed almost immediately a difference between the urban students and those from the suburbs and rural areas. The city students, including the white kids, all acknowledged that race was a live issue; the suburban and rural students felt that there wasn’t any need to discuss race, it wasn’t a problem any more. I said that the city students seemed much more receptive to my writing and the issues it brought up. As I said this, I felt, as I often have with Samantha, a sense of irony. Contrary to previous discussions about race, she seemed to be taking a more critical stance towards whites than me. It was as if she’d finally reached a point where she could be critical of the ways whites dealt with race or systemic racism without feeling like she was parroting some fatherly or family line. It was clear though that Samantha felt that class was just as crucial as race and ethnicity, perhaps even more so. She might be a person of color, but she had far more advantages than many of her classmates. She said she felt it was unfair that we could afford to pay an advisor to help her with her college applications and others of friends had to apply to colleges without such help. In a way, it was almost as if she felt angry at us for bestowing on her this privilege. (Though she didn’t refuse to work with the college advisor we’d hired, she constantly complained that it really wasn’t worth the money.) As our dinner conversation went on, we talked about how bright students of color often only applied to local institutions, not because they couldn’t get into schools elsewhere but because they didn’t know anything about schools elsewhere and didn’t know how to find out about them. The schools were certainly no help; students at Samantha’s high school didn’t get the type of advice about applying to college that students at private schools in the area received (in fact the woman who was helping Samantha had worked as a guidance counselor at one of these schools). At the center of her world view is a strong sense of egalitarianism, which I like to think her mother and I have fostered, but which, in the end, comes from herself. As editor of her high school yearbook, she says she’s determined to make sure that it’s not just the most “popular” or loudest kids who get featured or get their photos in the yearbook. At the same time, I think she’d be one of the first to admit that this is more a cosmetic gesture than anything else, that it certainly doesn’t address the lines of race and class that divide her school. It’s December 30, and as is her wont, Samantha’s in a last minute lunge to get her college applications in (the deadline is midnight on the 31 st). Sam asks me to work
with her on the essay that’s part of the general application, the standard form used by many colleges. She’s using an essay she wrote a while ago for an English class. I’ve known about the existence of this essay through my wife, but I haven’t yet read it. What I do know is that it’s about me and her struggles with my being a writer. It’s not clear whether it’s simply the looming deadline or her distance from the issues in the essay that makes her willing to let me read it. As I do, I’m struck by a sense of pride at her writing skills and, as always with her, with a sense of irony: A page in my journal reads one sentence over and over; “I will not suffer the curse of my father, I will not suffer the curse of my father, I will not suffer the curse of my father.” I wrote this when I was fourteen and had snuck onto my father’s computer. I was never supposed to go into my father’s office. It was a place of secret words on a computer with secret documents I was never supposed to open. These documents held his deepest secrets that would someday be published to the world. My father’s curse was these documents. They spoke of his feelings of alienation from the rest of the world and his need to write about these feelings as a way of working through them. Back then I only partly understood what my father wrote and why he wrote what he did. What I did know was this: From that day on I vowed that I would never end up the way my father had. No matter how many secrets I harbored, no matter how much pain I felt I needed to tell the world, I promised myself that I would never become a writer. Oddly enough my father is the first to admit that writing can be something of a curse. He is the one who introduced me to the saying, “Once a writer is born into a family, that is the end of the family.” But what about me? I was born into a family that seemed doomed from the beginning. When I was younger I had a vague notion of what my parents did for a living. My mother was a doctor and my father was a writer. Simple enough titles, but not very descriptive of all that my parents do. My mother is actually a pediatric oncologist, and my father is a poet, a memoirist, and for most of my life my biggest source of pain. We often block out the moments that cause us the most pain in life, and it is for this reason that I don’t remember exactly when I found out what my father wrote about. He didn’t just write; he wrote books with contents that weren’t always easy to swallow. My father writes about personal experiences mostly dealing with race and sex, two things that make most people, and especially me, very uncomfortable. As mature as I like to think I am, I was definitely not prepared to find my father’s personal secrets spilled out on pages for the world to read. Nor was I ready for how easily accessible the secrets were to anyone who wanted to read them. My most painful moments from middle school all deal with some classmate finding my fathers book’s--my biggest fear coming to life. I hated the fact that my father wrote, and in turn hated writing in general. All I could see was the pain and embarrassment it had caused me. When I looked at my father’s computer that day years of pent up anger at him came up. But what was ironic was how these feelings came out of me--by writing. At that moment as my worst fears came true, I realized the curse was not one I could escape. The only way I knew how
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to deal with this anger towards writing was by writing, and finally I understood why my father had to do what he did. That day I realized that there are a few people in this world who are given a gift with words. If used right this gift can be for others, for other’s enjoyment. But first and foremost this gift is really for the writer itself. A writer needs to write because it is the thing he or she is compelled to do. My biggest fear stares back at me on every page of my journal, every writing assignment that I am secretly ecstatic to conquer, and I have finally stopped trying to deny that I do suffer the curse of my father. There’s not much I change with the essay, just a couple punctuation errors. In the end, she has to shorten it to fit the form. Because of space limitations, she removes the quotation “Once a writer is born into the family, that is the end of the family,” a saying which I’ve paraphrased from Philip Roth paraphrasing Czeslaw Milosz. She’s a bit tense, which is understandable, and of course I don’t point out to her that she should have planned better so as not to be doing all this at the last minute. I think back to when my father used to go over my compositions when I was in high school, scribbling angrily in the margins and muttering things like, “you idiot,” and “where did you learn to write like this.” Back in high school, any verbal fluency in me was certainly latent. Both my parents always complained I talked like a jock. It’s clear Sam’s writing at a level I didn’t reach until college and in a way, not even then, because I couldn’t have written back then so cogently about my relationship with either of my parents. I suppose I might be expected to be more upset or pained or even feel more guilty than I do about being responsible for causing her such pain through my writing. But I recognize that if she doesn’t feel that she had a choice in this matter, it’s merely the truth. Just as importantly, I would not have done anything different. I think of James Hillman’s book, The Soul’s Code, where he examines the concept of the daimon, the spirit inside us that discovers and determines our life work, what we have a particularly gift for. Hillman remarks that it’s not the job of one’s parents to foster one’s daimon; indeed, more often than not, it is someone else, like a teacher mentor, who performs that task. In the end Hillman says we don’t get the parents we want but perhaps we get the parents we need in order to become who we are meant to become. As we wrap up and Sam’s about to leave my office, I turn and ask her, “Well, are you still angry at me?” She looks at me a bit puzzled and a bit bemused, “Didn’t you read the essay? I’m not angry anymore. That’s the whole point.” And then she walks out. The next day, finishing up the applications on New Year’s Eve, she has me correct the specific essays for individual colleges for punctuation and grammar. In several she mentions her experience in Mock Trial; her team has won the state championship two years in a row and finished fourth and twelve in the nation (I’m fond of bragging about this, “So it’s not just my subjectively fatherly opinion that she likes to argue”). In one description of herself she quotes a passage from something I wrote about her when she was five:
Samantha hates to be bored. She likes to be challenged and to learn, and when she’s engaged in something she pours herself into it. At first Samantha can be shy and her shyness can sometimes be interpreted as sullenness. In general, she overcomes this fairly quickly, and then she can be quite vocal.” This is from my father’s description of me in a letter for my first parent teacher conference in first grade. My father showed me this after I asked him to write a letter describing me (at 17) for my school counselor. He brought back the letter to my counselor and the letter from my first grade conference, to show me how identical they were; I haven’t changed one bit. I am still shy and quiet in unfamiliar situations. I am reminded of how, in writerly overkill, I penned about three single spaced pages in describing her in the form for kindergarten. Her self-description ends with this bit of adolescent self-awareness: I am a person who loves to argue to the point that it annoys most people I have close relationships with. I can never let an argument go and always have to have the last word. I also am a person who feels the need to overanalyze anything and everything before I can truly understand it. Fortunately, by joining the mock trial team I have found a way to positively use my argumentative and analytic nature. As I read this, I think silently to myself: Well, at least she’s aware of how difficult she can sometimes be. We go over some answers to why she wants to go to a specific school or what professors there she wants to study with. Finally there’s a couple application questions where she is asked her career aspirations. Her answer: She wants to become “the first Asian American Supreme Court Justice of the United States.” Odd creature that I am, I find myself more proud of the first term here, Asian American, than the second. When we finish a few hours before the New Year’s deadline and she leaves my office, I sit for a moment at my desk, feeling, if only for a moment, that my work with her is done.
David Mura is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, critic, playwright and performance artist. A Sansei or third generation Japanese American, Mura has written two memoirs: Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei (Anchor-Random), which won a 1991 Josephine Miles Book Award from the Oakland PEN and was listed in the New York Times Notable Books of Year, and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity (1996, Anchor).
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AN UNCLE BREAKS THE SILENCE : EVOLUTION OF AN ILLNESS Michelle Chen
The greasy dishes pile onto our long narrow table at the Thai restaurant in Queens. We are celebrating the college graduation of my cousin Jeffrey, sitting across from me; the 70th birthday of my father, sitting beside me; and the 60th birthday of my uncle, sitting at the opposite end of the table, where I prefer him. My brother, sister-in-law, and aunt and uncle from my mother's side are here too. Another glass of wine is poured, and someone asks my uncle if he wants to say something. I realize this is his cue to make a speech. After sitting through much of the meal in silence, he lets out a frail voice in accented English, his cheeks pulled into a smile so forced, it must be sincere. A family dinner with my uncle is a rare occurrence, even though he lives with my mother and father in the apartment where I was raised. He usually makes every effort not to be inside the house when my parents have dinner, perhaps because he thinks eating their food is the one burden he can spare them. Evolution of an Illness Since he came to live with us several years ago, my uncle's presence has evolved from a crisis to a quiet nuisance. These days, he spends most of his limited energy trying to make himself easy to ignore. He takes long walks, returning late at night with his grim, loping gait. He sleeps most of the day. Or when he is anxious, he may lie awake in his dark room for hours on damp sheets. In return for his efforts to imitate old furniture, my parents accept his sickness and accept he will not get better. That's more than many in our family are willing to admit, as evidenced by the boxes of vitamins and herbal supplements that have piled up in his room, sent by other relatives with notes of courteous concern. Though his presence is irksome, my parents know we're relatively lucky, because my uncle's illness is not the kind that leads to violent outbursts or deep hallucinations. For years, his medication simply deadened his mind into a state of near-catatonia, underscored by the 40-some-odd pounds he put on as a side effect of the drugs. His brain has limbered up somewhat recently since he started taking a different pill. But his other main symptom remains: his silence, the invasive hush hovering over the apartment like a quivering moth. While the family's social contract with my uncle has brought quiet resignation, his diagnosis has helped us make sense of himâ€”more to our benefit than to his. Until then, no one quite knew why, for as long as anyone could remember, he had refused to show any degree of warmth toward other human beings. During his marriage, faint hints of the crisis surfaced at quickening intervals. My uncle's wife sometimes confided in my parents about his cruel detachment and revealed how, contrary to his family's hopes, marriage had failed to cure him of his coldness. Jeffrey grew up learning how to ignore and be ignored by his father.
Later, no one could explain why my uncle avoided my grandfather as he lay on his death bed, despite his wish to see his youngest son before expiring, as if a final visit would redeem some of the shame of not raising him right. He was the shame of a proud family that, despite having survived war and poverty and revolution, somehow just couldn't fix this one ingrate son. Finding a Language We issued our own diagnosis first: guai, a catch-all Chinese phrase for weird, strange, and deviant. My parents chalked up his withdrawn nature to a mixture of apathy and a flawed personality. They tried to push him to be a better husband, to be more responsible and affectionate. But after the divorce and the loss of his dead-end office job, not too long after September 11, when he dissolved into babbling paranoia and refused to come out of his apartment for days, and soon had to be forcibly removed and committed to Bellevue... at that point, guai no longer sufficed. There is a term for schizophrenia in Chinese, but it doesn't carry the same currency as it does in English. Like the disease itself, it doesn't translate well. My uncle was more talkative when he first arrived from the hospital. Though the paranoia had eased by then, fear would well up in him at night, and he had a habit of jumping out of bed to kneel and pray for forgiveness before my grandfather's framed photograph in the living room. Between his convulsions of guilt, my uncle complained. His grumblings were as bland and monotonous as his spirit, but still they ground down my parentsâ€™ nerves. He griped about constant insomnia, or about feeling ill and weak with some undiagnosable ailment. He pestered my parents to give him a job at their store, insisting this would relieve his restlessness. He worried that Jeffrey wasn't doing all his homework, that Jeffrey's hair was too long, that Jeffrey would catch a cold because he didn't wear a hat, and that his mother wasn't keeping a careful eye on him. But no, when we asked him in exasperation, he wouldn't call or meet with his son, or visit him at college. Just as he refused to change his pants or get a haircut. He deflected anger with blankness. Over time, the complaints ebbed into silence, and we didn't miss his voice. Today, the disturbance has calmed down to a low growl, the white noise we've all learned to block out. I often pass him on the street in my neighborhood and scarcely make eye contact, rather I let him fade into the city's anonymous backdrop. Perhaps in another context this would be a sign of family dysfunction. But the dividend we extract from my uncle's dependency is the convenient assumption that whatever is wrong with our collective relationship, it is always wrong with him. My uncle has taught my family a new language of avoidance. My mother and father cope in creative ways. They assign him rote tasks: watering the plants or doing sit-ups before bed. At times, they seem to relish yelling at himâ€”about his reluctance to shower and shave; his fatness; the sweat that beads up on his greasy forehead because he wears long sleeves and sweaters regardless of the weather; and how he
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eats the same dull breakfast every day, bread and milk, like he's still institutionalized. With almost puerile vigor, they've teased him about his various tics—the tuneless humming under his breath when he chews, the involuntary muscle contractions rocking him back and forth and making him limply stroke his belly, as if strumming a guitar. I no longer see the point in trying to convince my parents this kind of treatment is not very therapeutic for schizophrenia patients. I know it provides a cathartic outlet as they struggle to fit him into a half-lit corner of their lives. And I'm not entitled to criticize; I yell at him too sometimes, after all. And unlike them, I don't have to breathe the stifling air his illness seeps into their home each day. My mother sometimes lashes out with subtle hostility. Over dinner, she'll yell at him for being too timid in reaching out for the fish on the far end of the table—she hates his craven reluctance to ask for anything, as if he's afraid of becoming emotionally indebted to us. One night she denounced him for not visiting an ailing relative, reminding him of how he abandoned his own parents, and the withering denouncement prompted him to make the trip. Mostly, she rages against his less consequential tics: She's excoriated him once for not throwing away the box for the tube of toothpaste. Normal people don't leave open toothpaste boxes; they throw them in the trash. My uncle would generally say nothing and comply, but it isn't the nonsensical habits that bothered her, but the indifference, the emotional opacity, that gives him an unnerving leverage over us. My father focuses on keeping my uncle occupied. He urges him to write Chinese calligraphy each day as a form of therapy. Lately, my uncle has become somewhat livelier and talkative—we think it's because he switched medications—and the recommendations have become more ambitious. My uncle now writes regular diary entries, which my father sometimes reads to monitor his progress. When my father encouraged his brother half-seriously to take martial arts classes with an old master we know from Chinatown, my uncle, who moves like he just emerged from a body cast, stayed quiet. He allows his caregivers the comfort of having urged him to do something, knowing they don't expect, maybe don't even want him to really respond. The New Normal There have been minor triumphs in recent months since he switched to the new medicine. He might remark at dinner on the food being too spicy, instead of just chewing mutely. He used to eat only bananas as his evening snack, and now he throws in the occasional apple or orange. One evening, I asked my uncle if, after about five years, he had become the longestrunning student in his day treatment group. He told us many people had been there far longer. My father joked about how long it was taking those students to “get better.” No, I say, it's about managing the illness, reaching a point where it's no longer getting worse. You still don't understand you can't cure these things, I said. They nod quietly, and my uncle says nothing. The lull dangles in our queer emotional stasis.
As a reporter, when writing about mental health issues, I've researched the concept of cultural competency. I've interviewed clinicians and advocates about Western mental health care's failures in working with immigrant households, who often are reluctant to seek professional treatment and have difficulty grasping the idea there is no real cure. Researchers say Asian American families face special challenges due to different concepts of family cohesion, which tend to subjugate the individual will to the communal. Mental health issues in Asian American communities have historically been ignored or misunderstood, burdened by stigma, shame, and a lack of access to culturally sensitive treatment programs. Still, I can never seem to graft that analysis onto the case study unfolding in my parents' living room. We're not ignorant people who think my uncle is cursed or evil. We're not ashamed. Somehow the disdain my parents heap on him feels justified. He is irritating, unpleasant, and he is constantly there. Before he went crazy, he frustrated us in ways no one else really understood. We may understand him better now that his personality bears a psychiatric label. We understand ourselves less; my father's unshakeable commitment to his brother seems to push the bounds of sanity at times, even if we couldn't imagine it any other way. Maybe it runs in the family. I go back to his birthday. Tonight, we rest. We're at the Thai restaurant in Queens, two generations celebrating two birthdays and a graduation. Two middle-aged brothers face each other across the long table, balding and content. Tonight, my uncle toasts to his son Jeffrey. He's happy that everyone is together here, he says, and he's proud. I try to focus on his words and not the wheezy thinness of his voice as my mouth pulls into something just shy of a smile. Mired in the moment's dense awkwardness is this fragile pride we all feelâ€”an emotion pressed flat and smooth by exhaustion.
Michelle Chen works and plays in New York City. Besides freelance reporting, her various occupations have included ethnographic research in Shanghai and coatchecking at a West Village jazz club. Her writing has also appeared in Colorlines, In These Times, Ms. Magazine, Womenâ€™s International Perspective, South China Morning Post, and her old zine, cain.
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JUST ONE SONG Ranjani Murali
I was four when I started humming lewd film songs during dinner—the ones that were featured on “Top 10 Bollywood Hits,” the primetime 90’s show that shaped the future of advertising in India. My parents, although aghast at my ability to reproduce profanity with startling accuracy, were pleased all the same. They had found their daughter suitable enough to inherit the family legacy—classical South Indian music, also called Carnatic music. On an auspicious day of the Hindu calendar, my grandfather, his papery fingers dipped in holy ash, blessed me as I prostrated before him. He applied the ash in a single line across my forehead and brushed his palm over my well-oiled head. His eyes shone a warm brown as he handed me a yellow book containing the very first set of notes and combinations that I would learn— Carnatic Music Notations for Aspiring Singers, Part-1. I was now a “singer.” My class began promptly at six every alternate weekday evening, when my friends would be elbowing each other in the sunflower-yellow spiral slides and stuffing sand into each other's pockets. But I was now yoked to this new slide-less world, replete with poetic spiritual angst (since most compositions are addressed to a deity specifically) and a dazzling display of ragas (combinations of notes that evoke certain moods and are sung are specific times of the day). My fleshy shoulders were weighed down by the backpack that I carried to music class. It weighed nothing but carried with it just one word— expectation, the expectation that I would prove to be the talented daughter, the obedient granddaughter, and the ideal “family girl” eventually. My teacher was a mousy lady, her hair carefully reddened with henna every week, her ears studded with diamonds, her eyes strangely devoid of bhakti or devotion, the essence of this music. She did not correct me if I sang the wrong note, nor did she ask that I repeat it, as was customary of my “real guru,” Ms. L, whom I met later. Like my music instructor from school, she did not instruct with a wooden ruler in her hand or with a twitching nose forever eager to crease at the slightest hint of error; she was merely doing this as a “hobby”. She was not interesting in patterning—the intricacies of singing a certain set of notes and the various ways of proceeding from one note to another— something that I did not even realize was possible until months later, Ms. L stopped mid-line, explaining some twelve possibilities for its successful rendering. Under the mechanical guidance of my first teacher, I grew to be, if it were possible at all, more raw a singer than I was initially. I could not hold my notes firm, and every time my grandmother threatened to sign over our family heirlooms consisting of diamond earrings, silverware and brocaded silk sarees to my sister unless I practised—a warning that was accompanied by excessive bangle-clinking—my voice only crumbled further. Subsequently, my family also discovered that I had been skipping classes after a boy in the local park had challenged me to a series of “silver bullet1” fights, most of which involved plastic guns, toy darts and sore calf muscles. After a somewhat awkward confrontation, where my father paced up and down the room with a morose face and my grandmother punctuated my confused looks with
1 The 1985 film, Silver Bullets, based on the novel with the same title by Stephen King, was aired on the local cable channel every Friday for approximately a whole year after it was released.
“What do we do with you now?” or “We named you after a raga!” they agreed to let me drop the class. The only condition was: I needed to find a new teacher. My grandparents and parents did not ease off even for a few days after I became a Carnatic music dropout. In fact, every visitor to our house was sized up by my grandmother in case they were musically inclined. My grandmother sifted through various prospective candidates for the post of music teacher. Some were too screechy, some sounded too pompous, and finally, some were just “not suitable to our family’s style, you know.” She waved her jewelled fingers at me during tea-time everyday and expressed her deep fear that I would be excommunicated from our community—the Tamil Brahmins or Tambrahms— unless I “prayed to our ancestors, our family Gods and the Patron Goddess of the Arts, Saraswati for a good guru.” The grey bun at the small of her neck would bob and her palms would fold in obeisance as her lips wound around the word “good.” This continued to be the status quo until the local movers brought Ms. L’s fourteen violins, boxes full of taped radio concerts, and notebooks full of handwritten notations to the apartment above ours. When Ms. L came over for coffee and snacks to our house that evening, she spoke of ragas and talas (combinations of beats) that the family pretended to have heard of but later admitted knowing nothing about. She carried in her eyes this blazing self-sureness and interspersed conversation with lines from songs, raising her right hand, drawing waves in the air as her voice, deep but somewhat jagged, carried over notes and words in languages from all over India. A suitable guru had arrived. My moist-eyed grandmother stood up at the end of the meeting, both hands gripping Ms. L’s shoulders hard, ready to hand over the responsibility of transforming me into the next Ms. L. Unlike my first teacher, Ms. L was not fond of textbooks or mechanical repetition. Every class would start with a question: “What notes am I singing?” or “How would you draw the raga ____?” As I struggled to draw the image of the raga I imagined—a plump, red-faced woman wearing an austere beige but delicately embroidered cotton saree, or a woman wearing a cocktail dress and frosted lipstick— she would tune up her violin. She would then play the raga assuming, perhaps, that I would get a better sense of what I had to draw if I could hear it. Ms. L was a disciplinarian who exacted as much effort as she put in; she did not let me stop until I got a note or an exercise right, and yet she was an innovative teacher. She entertained me with stories of singing saints who drew crowd mobs of listeners. She did not disparage the “semi-classical”2 film songs that aired on television. Instead, she played film music on faded yellow tapes and asked me to identify the ragas in which were composed. She turned my flirtations with music into a genuine scientific interest in Carnatic music theory and practice. Then, one day, I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor beside her, the evening filtering in through gauzy purple shades and reeking of the same expectations—becoming the “good” Tambrahm girl. I was going to become a spectacle, a way for my grandmother’s toothless friends to amuse themselves when their afternoon soaps had exhausted all their reruns.
2 The adjective is a euphemism; Indians also call film music “light” music since it is loosely based on traditional styles like the Carnatic or Hindustani.
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In my grandmother’s family, as is typical of most families of our community, a young girl, irrespective of exact age, is a commodity, a spectacle. Much like the heirlooms— the various stones set carefully in burnished 22 carat gold— she stands to inherit from her grandmother, she too, is a gem trapped in a web of accomplishments and expected perfection. Whether she is a diamond sparkling in copper-tinted gold or a nondescript stone set in scratched silver is determined by the list of her artistic and domestic accomplishments. It is not that academic achievements didn’t matter. Traditionally, women (especially those my grandmother’s age and older) did not study much but looked after the house, and were expected to remain prolific in the domestic sphere. Education was a bonus; accomplishments were the mainstay. These ranged from cooking a three-course meal for fifty people in an hour to catapulting audiences to a heightened state of spiritual bliss even when singing for four minutes. This was the nature of our parochial legacy—the women were keepers of our music, our food, our children, and thereby, our “culture.” My grandmother too, like most of her peers, was a doyenne, a maami of the community. She prided herself on being able to pick out talent. “That one’s a good husk-thresher” she’d say, or “That one draws exquisite rice-powder patterns. I bet she’ll marry into a well-off family.” Her eyes were omnipresent and her matronly senses sharpened to a heightened sheen. She would not miss a wrongly sung note, a missing spice in a dish, or the extra spoon of sugar in her coffee. And now, it was her turn to parade her granddaughter, for her to sit in the corner and glow proudly, as the sunlight sparkled off her rubies and her diamonds and her granddaughter’s notes. I was to be “shown,” a tradition that I suspect has held on from the days of prepubescent child brides. But, with time, it had devolved into a day of dressing up and having a gaggle of women wave their shiny fingertips at your trembling voice, its childlike creaminess substituted by a superimposed maturity—the wisdom of singing saints and wandering mystics, of maidens whose divine lovers have forsaken them. The evening of my showing, which was also during navaratri or one of the nine days when the Mother Goddess in all her forms is worshipped, my mother busied herself in the kitchen, her head bent over steaming pots of spicy chickpeas, sundal, and rice pudding or payasam. My grandmother waved people in and seated them on straw mats, insisting that I had taken after Saint Thyagaraja (who served his favorite deity, Rama, by composing songs and creating new ragas for him) and Swathi Thirunal (who also did the same for the Divine Mother). The food, called prasadam or offering, would be served to the deity first and then to the guests. Meanwhile, it also helped put the audience in a good mood. As my grandmother spoke, people grew aware of me sitting in a corner, my neck weighed down with gold patterned in sharp V’s and my stocky frame swathed in peacock blue silk. Women who envied my grandmother, women who despised my grandmother, and neutral elements genuinely thrilled at the prospect of a “divine” musical experience drowned each other out simultaneously. They requested songs as if I were a live jukebox, tapped a hand or pinched a cheek, and even ordered me to "sing a song, just one song." It was part of the ritual to pretend to offer the choice to sing. But I knew what I had to do. My mother, whose job it was to help ease me into performing, was required to insist that “Oh, she’s just starting to learn.” This was part of the set-up as well. She had to appear humble, but still whet the audience’s appetite. After the appropriate amount of polite declining, she ran her hand across the back of my head while I was still staring at the edge of my
disposable plastic bowl, its contents untouched and the smell of lentils and cardamom deep within my lungs. This was it. I started with an invocation to the Goddess first, my eyes closed, but lids open just enough so I could see my audience—the ones with cracked heels, the ones ready to locate every note, the ones feeding their toddlergrandchildren payasam while the sun set from across the room over the shiny yellow slide in the park. After my showing and its aftermath— compliments, mostly favorable and ambivalent comments, and crumpled plastic bowls—my family remained largely secure about my newfound identity as the official family singer. Every fortnight or so, my family would invite Ms. L home. Elaborate discussions would ensue. Had I progressed from the basics, called geethams, to the more complex compositions, the varnams? Was I ready for competitions? At no point did Ms. L, however, answer those questions one way or another. Her disarming smile and her continuous nodding convinced my parents that her ambiguity was of a positive kind; it meant that I was worthy of further exhibition—of more showings and performances at all sorts of family gatherings and social get-togethers. What continued to alarm me was the assumption that I would be ever-prepared to sing, perform, and floor people of varying musical aptitudes. I was not exactly stage-shy but I was a perfectionist and could not tolerate being told by stern-faced maamis that some note was not in place. The point was— my teacher had trained me a little too well. I knew exactly where I was off-pitch, but could not possibly correct it because my singing was not on par with my cognitive capabilities. What was worse than being told that I was off-note was not being told that I was. It made me even more livid to know that my audience did not flinch if I sang off-key because that indicated their own lack of investment in music. They had not even come as far as a pre-teen but had been ready to sit there and evaluate me, my family and my teacher. But my biggest complaint remains the same through the years—the loss of the unadulterated joy of singing for myself or singing as a way of losing myself for a while. Instead of singing a song that resonated with my mood, I had to pander to threats disguised as requests. On melancholic days, I would yearn to sing the raga Todi, its exquisite pain seeping through my veins, but instead, I had to feign a skipping, joyful Mohanam. After two or three such unfulfilling performances, I decided that I would have to circumvent these situations altogether. I lined up a list of excuses—midterms, extra classes in school that required me to stay back late, a sore throat, or a sudden desire to help my mother with dinner. The words “visitors,” “friends” or “bring out the porcelain plates” would cause a fidgeting fit—I would sit at my desk, my feet tapping continuously to an imagined funeral-drum3, trying to finish homework that I had already done, or pretending to sleep so I would not be woken up. But my mother was persistent. She would manage to pull me out and give me encouraging smiles as I made my way to the living room, sweating and nervously tuning the electronic pitchbox, the shruti-potti, readying myself for another round of appraisal. I have often wondered why Tambrahms, the Tamil-Hindu clergy, have chosen music as the emblem of identity propagation. Perhaps it is because we no longer have the 3 Loud drums and vigorous dancing are part of funeral processions in South India. These are ways of letting the dead know that we are happy they are moving on.
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religious moorings we did earlier. The sacred texts are not required to be learnt in their entirety, except by those who still administer temples, and there is much confusion about reconciling our cultural practices with living in a globalized world. We simply cannot digest the idea of an entirely “uncivilised” new generation. So the older Tambrahms coerce their (grand) children into learning music in the hope that perhaps traces of their legacy will trickle down. The only problem is that a lot of children do not inherit any interest in Carnatic music (or the ability to master its complexities in a few years), let alone survive three-hour recitals. I have often come across such children— mostly pale-faced girls wearing layers of talcum powder, their eyes weighed down with copious kohl. Unlike the buttery voice in which they’d say “I am in the fourth standard,” their singing voices were harsh and cosmetic. As the song progressed, they would increase their tempo in anticipation of finishing soon, their braids swinging vigorously as if the words were a train rushing through a cavernous tunnel. While I do feel sorry for those who despise singing or simply cannot sing, I have also wondered what it would feel like to be in their place. Despite my anxiety about performing, I cannot say that I have ever wanted to be anything but a good singer, someone who is engaged in their art. My main objection, therefore, has less to do with singing and more to do with making an exhibit out of myself. I have always been ready to sing or perform for an audience I am comfortable with and have enjoyed myself the most when no one has coerced me into singing. However, as is characteristic of most Indian social situations, people assume that when you refuse to perform, it is in fact merely a polite hesitation which just needs a little more persuasion and prodding. A good friend who worked in the U.S. when I was studying in India, often told me that when an American woman said “no” to a date with him, she meant “no,” not “possibly yes, but only if you ask me thrice over the course of the next five weeks.” This wishy-washiness applies to almost every Indian social situation; when my grandmother asks me if I am full after a meal, and I say “yes,” it is an opening to prod me further. “Are you sure?” she will ask me, scraping the bowl of rice vigorously. I will almost certainly nod for my last mouthful is still being masticated. “But there are two spoons of rice left, my dear.” Still scraping away, she will empty the contents onto my plate and toss the bowl into the sink, saying, “Eat it. This way, we save space on the counter. See?” (Note: no one in a respectable Tambrahm family puts leftovers in the fridge. They are usually consumed later in the day or given away to cows or beggars). Certainly, a large share of my childhood dilemmas and low self-esteem could have been avoided if I had known how to or been trained to refuse. The problem is I still don’t know how to say no and the maamis still don’t know how to take “no” for an answer. That is why when there are women in the musical maami-gathering who are looking for potential daughters- in- law, it is always better to say yes and get the “show” over with. Refusal to sing will somehow be interpreted by them as a signal to persuade you further— to sing, and then, to marry.
One such time, during the festival of navaratri, again, I was lured into an arrangedmarriage girl-showing trap. I had just begun working for a television channel in Bombay and had taken the weekend off to spend time with my mother’s friend. She had been invited to several women’s houses for a golu viewing. Golu involves fashioning a stair-like contraption with five wooden planks, and then stacking it with dolls of Gods and other mythical characters. The lady of the house installs the golu and takes the dolls down after navratri is over. Every evening during those nine days, she also invites her friends home to sing devotional songs, exchange little gifts and trinkets and eat food that is blessed by the Goddess. In my mind, it seems that the singing is the price you have to pay for a good time. The audience can make as many requests as they want, from anyone that entertains them more than the others. The gifts, too, seem proportionate in quantity and number to your singing abilities. If you oblige to singing three-four songs without faltering much, you receive an extraglittery trinket and more than one scoop of sundal. The audience and the situation demand loud self-publicizing and enterprise; there is no room for the shy or the untalented. As my mother’s friend was aware of my singing credentials and my particular anxieties, she asked me to accompany her to “just one” friend’s house that rainy Saturday evening, insisting that she felt guilty leaving me behind. When we arrived, we were welcomed in the traditional manner— with food and inquisitive smiles. My mother’s friend, sociable but somewhat tactless, upon hearing that the lady of the house had an eligible young son in the U.S., cracked, and raved about my “exquisite” singing skills. The lady’s eyes widened, her eyebrows glistening with sweat, her hands resting gently on my shoulder. Again, it was time. Whenever no specific request was made, I chose songs that suited my own mood at the time. That night, I chose my favorite song, set in the raga that I had been named after: Ranjani. I sang most of the song with my eyes shut tight, aware that in addition to strangers watching me, there were also framed pictures on the wall—pictures of this faceless man whose mother was interested in sizing me up. When I finished and opened my eyes, the hostess had a look of mild amazement. She clasped my hand and nodded to my beaming companion. This alarmed and amused me instantly, since most people well-versed in Carnatic music would be able to tell that I was breathless and out of practice. I clenched my teeth as I watched the exchange, the affirmation that “yes, I like this girl.” Over the next twenty minutes, the lady gave me a tour of her house, all the while pointing to photographs of her son, whose face I refused to imprint in my visual memory. Phrases like “your mother” and “horoscope” and “June is a good month for marriages” floated in the musty monsoon air. I walked around in sheer amazement, horror and a strange fascination. What kind of marriage was based on the singing prowess of the bride? Who was this guy anyway? Some engineer in California who probably soaked in music concerts over the weekends and expected to pass on the burden of choosing the quality of his marital life to his parents by having them select the girl. After my guided tour, my friend and I returned home. She promptly called up my mother to inform her of the “proposal.” Then, as she handed me the receiver, I think I finally laughed because I heard my mother’s mildly amused voice. She sounded grounded yet flattered, aware that the proposal was an unexpected side-effect of the
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singing. She was not going to take photocopies of my birth-chart, put it into a manila envelope and mail it to some lady who collected replicas of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. I was not going to be “married off” to some “foreign groom.” Eventually, of course, the proposal was vetoed by my father too, since he wanted me to build a career that lasted for more than two weeks. But, since then, I have been even more wary of gatherings consisting of “oh, just some friends.” I have no desire to be appraised. I don’t think that singing is an estimate of either my “womanliness” or the “appropriateness” of my upbringing. I refuse to sing to when I sense that there is more than just entertainment involved, and this refusal is not merely my resistance to a collective identity. It is also my refusal to be seen as an object, a token, a cultural emblem or as disposable property waiting to be auctioned. Even now, in weekly static-and-echo-filled long-distance conversations with my mother, I discuss music. I insist that I sing only occasionally, and not because it is ladylike or appropriate but because the notes feel right in my throat. At the end of most of these conversations, my mother sighs, and I can imagine her crouched on the coffee-brown sofa at home in India, her wavy hair tied into a ponytail that sweeps her back as she whispers, “It’s unfortunate, dear. So unfortunate.” It has now been five years since my last formal lesson. I have had one teacher since Ms. L. She let me come to class whenever I had time off from college, but my commitment had waned by then. I fear that the mild cracks that seeped into my love for music have only deepened over time, since I cannot help but view it as a marker of identity. When I do sing now, sitting cross-legged on the pale brown carpet in my rented townhouse in Virginia, I almost immediately temper my own desire to get better at it; I want to be just good enough. I want to feel the notes piercing the crisp air, a form of prayer and private contemplation, a spiritual practice that I can turn to for my own joie de vivre. As I have now turned to writing poetry and playing the violin (an instrument that is unforgiving of error and torments audiences if played improperly), my role as the conventional daughter has ended. One of the most irreverent acts that one can commit as a Tambrahm is to abandon music. Many young members of the community do stop their formal training when they are in high school; the pressures of academics leave no time for the arts. But my initiation into a rival art— my entry into an MFA program in Creative Writing—stripped me of my title as the family singer. My only consolation for letting my family down and being written-off as family performer remains that my sister has taken over my role. Even now, as I write this, I suspect that she is sitting cross-legged on her bedroom floor, her electronic tuning-box placed on a plastic mat, her eyes closed as she sings a raga I once sang: Todi. Every summer now, I go home to spend time with family and my parents screen videos of my sister’s performances in temples and competitions. Occasionally, I fancy that I am jealous. But I soon realize that the warm rush of blood in my face is that of pride, of admiration, and even relief. I love being free of the spotlight and the glaring eye of the video-camera, free to make my own observations, to drink in the melody of someone else’s carefully orchestrated singing. To be the observer, to even be the maami, to ask for “just one song.”
Ranjani Murali recently graduated from George Mason's MFA Poetry program. Her poetry has been published in elimae and Indefinite Space and her translations have appeared in Phoebe. Her work was part of George Mason's Annual Fall for the Book exhibits in 2009 and 2010. She was married in India in a ceremony spanning three days and is recovering from its after-effects in her quiet Chicago apartment.
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LOOSE CHANGE Emi Hattori
The years my father planted Chrysanthemums slipped away like loose change falling out of my pockets. I somersaulted through the lazy days of summer which seemed in endless supply. In Spring the cherry blossoms sprinkled the air for a fleeting few weeks. My father called it the ‘floating world’, contained in a bowl of blue sky. I can still taste the Sakura Mochi on Girl’s Day, wrapped in cherry blossom leaves. Today, it would be lost on my palette, dulled by age. The blooms which seemed so large in childhood compete for space with my Peonies and Dahlias. Only the sunflowers still tower over my head. Mums. They haunt me. They grew behind our incinerator back in the days before careening garbage trucks shattered the quiet that cocooned our neighborhood. Only the sprinkler broke the quiet with the ping-ping-ping of water beads hitting blades of grass. The music of the water, the flutter of moth wings, and the kuri-kuri of horned toads on dry leaves gentled our ears; this, before the television insinuated its way into our parlor and our daily lives like an earworm that would not let you be. How recklessly I spent the days of my childhood with its infinite promise. Later, when I returned home, a single mother with two children, my father would read Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans to my daughter each night. When he would skip a section, my daughter would interrupt, “No, that’s not how it goes and then recite the missing lines. “Miss. Clavel, fearful of a disaster, ran fast and then faster.” There was no hurrying through a picture book, even for my aging father. I am now approaching sixty… What mysterious drain swallowed those years? Today will be the forty-ninth day. That is an important rite of passage for Buddhists; one of many stepping stones my father’s spirit will take during its final ascent. Rinban Ito at Higashi-Honganji will chant sutras to assist, as he did at the funeral forty-nine days ago. The air will be hammered by the sound of the ceremonial gong, muted by the curling incense smoke that leans upward. There will be services over the next fifty years… Seems like forever... It is not. The soul’s journey requires vigilance, twin to my own. Even now, the gong picks up speed. During his spirit’s ascent, I will keep a watchful eye on the meter. Days, minutes, hours will be measured with care. I will count each penny and feed the meter in the smallest coinage, and stretch time to its elastic utmost. His spirit’s journey will be one of leisure, filled with swaying white Chrysanthemums responding to the soft caress of summer’s hand. He will be honored with Manju wrapped in Sakura leaves set before the family altar so that his spirit will not suffer from pangs of hunger. And I will cling to all that remains of the one who showered my days with Chrysanthemum blooms. He had instructed me wisely, “sprinkle the plants the way the rain falls upon them…” This time, I will take heed, not let the days slip by like lost change. I will hold tight my coins for this journey.
I will stretch the ribbon of time and accompany his spirit the length of fifty endless years giving back to him the loose days of summer and reaping the dividends of small change wisely spent. I will purchase a slow-moving ride on a Mobius plane that intertwines endlessly far into eternity while the delicate sound of swaying mums scent the airâ€Ś I will hit the reverse button and replay my childhood in slow motion until the ribbon rewinds to the place where the beginning and the end are one and the same. The pinging of water droplets will be replaced with the fall of silent tears, as natural as rain. While the hammering gong echoes, gone, gone, goneâ€Ś, I will be vigilant, head to the ground, in search of lost change.
Emi Hattori was born at Heartmountain Relocation Camp during World War II. This is her first publication. She has studied writing for the past few decades at UCLA Extension and is currently working on a picture book with her daughter and a collection of creative non-fiction essays.
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INTERVIEW WITH SUHEIR HAMMAD Interviewed by: Kenji Liu
Suheir Hammad is a Palestinian American poet, author and political activist who was born October 1973 in Amman, Jordan to Palestinian refugee parents and immigrated with her family to Brooklyn, New York City when she was five years old. She is a prolific artist and winner of multiple awards for her work in the written and spoken word, film and theatre. Her most recent book of poetry is Breaking Poems (Cypher Books, 2008), which won the 30th Annual Before Columbus Foundation/American Book Awards for 2009. I was honored to study with Hammad at the annual Voices of Our Nations summer workshops for writers of color in 2005 and again in 2007. Her fierce and loving guidance was pivotal to my own development as a writer. For me, she is an inspiring intellectual-artist of color -- in constant critical conversation with the complex legacies she has inherited, navigating and wrestling with them using both brain and heart, and in the process making it impossible for the rest of us to ignore any of it. The following is a short email conversation that gives us a peek into her process. KL: You’ve said elsewhere that in breaking poems you were trying to write in the vernacular you grew up immersed in. Many who read and write for Kartika Review speak more than just standard English and/or come from families who do. How does language “break” for you, and what other breaks were you exploring? SH: language is still breaking for me. one thing you notice when you understand more than one language is how often people don't believe what they say. so much of communication is a lie or a distraction or kind of... stupid. poets value words, and words have been stripped of any individual magic, to become mere tools, not symbols. the language of war, or commerce, of ego, is made up of the same matter (or non) as the language of hope, love, faith. this back and forth between choosing the words to write/say, and (for me) needing to believe all these words are more than and less than they appear. like people. people break too. when i examine my own relationships with words, there's always more to learn, and to some extent i eventually become stagnant and arrogant in a definition, or usage. we're a bit numbed to true communication, i wish it weren't so, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, which is all matter, and none.
KL: After breaking poems, where is your language going now, and how? SH: interesting to think that language travels, and that we are passengers, not drivers of meaning... there are some things breaking poems did to my brain that i am still catching up with. 'wa' instead of 'and', for instance. so, 'wa' means 'and' in arabic, but it's also half of the word 'wawa', which would translate to our english 'booboo'. the word 'and', actually the idea of the word, has come to mean a separation, an acknowledgment that the need for 'and' follows a trauma, a division. 'and' brings it back together, but not. these kinds of games opened me in the work leading to breaking poems. they still go on in my head now. i'd like to think my language is taking me to the space where there are no words. there, no need. also, there's this way language fractals off into new thought, deeper meaning. i keep notes along the way for each "project". some of the poets and ideas i was studying peripherally for breaking poems, are now at the top of my research list. an example: inger christensen's work, which i only now understand engages mathematics in ways i didn't even 'know' existed while i was reading her work two years ago. KL: You mention in another interview that your parents wanted you to be a doctor or lawyer. What led to poetry and social justice? SH: it was difficult when i was growing up to envision a career of poetry. even as i type that, i can see how "career" and "poetry" kinda laugh at each other as concepts. where my work is taking me to now, is a place of stripping experience to sound, space... and i'm interested in mathematical ideas. i failed every math class i've ever taken, or scraped by somehow. have always felt at a disadvantage with numbers and angles, and am now finding them, within poetry/story. yeah, i can see why parents would want their child in a more solid "field". as far as politics... poets are citizens too. and they, like all citizens, have to decide how they want to serve. KL: Whatâ€™s on your ipodâ€™s most recently played list? SH: a playlist i called "grace", all alice Coltrane talib kweli and john legend "around my way" max romeo and lee scratch perry "chase the devil" a lecture from aldous huxley on ecology a lecture from terence mckenna on "finnegan's wake"
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CONTRIBUTOR BIOS FICTION Matthew Salesses was born in Korea. He is the author of a chapbook, We Will Take What We Can Get, and stories in or forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Witness, Pleiades, American Short Fiction, Mid-American Review, The Literary Review, and others. He edits Redivider. Krupa Harishankar is an undergraduate at Columbia University. She was raised in central Ohio, but considers herself a citizen of the world community. Her writing navigates the intersection of cultural perspectives, which she also enjoys experiencing firsthand from her current neighborhood in New York City. Liz Iversen obtaimned her M.A. in English: Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her writing and photography have been published in SF Weekly and The Deli SF, an online local music magazine. As an undergraduate at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Iversen was the News Director for the campus radio station, KCOU 88.1 FM-Columbia. She has also worked in television production and as a videographer and video editor. Currently, she teaches a journalism class online and am the Online Coordinator for the Academy of Art University. POETRY Peggy Lee was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. She was a student of Ishmael Reed's short fiction seminar and a student teacher poet for June Jordan's Poetry for the People program at U.C. Berkeley. She has facilitated poetry writing workshops with the Poetry for the People program at U.C. Berkeley, Berkeley High School, and Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. She has also been a student of Kim Addonizio and participated in the â€œVoices of Our Nationsâ€? workshop under the guidance of Ruth Forman. Currently, she's pursuing a graduate degree in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Her poems are all dedicated to her family and June Jordan. Rajiv Mohabir was born in London, England and is of Indo-Guyanese descent. He immigrated to Central Florida when he was a child and later studied Religious Studies at the University of Florida. He is currently a New York City Teaching Fellow, Long Island University, Brooklyn (2008) with an M.S.Ed. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. His work has been published in Blood Lotus and Saw Palm. Pudding House Press titled him "Poet of Note" in their 2009 chapbook contest and published his first chapbook na bad-eye me in 2010. His second chapbook na mash me bone is scheduled from release by Finishing Line Press in February of 2011. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010.
NON-FICTION David Mura is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, critic, playwright and performance artist. A Sansei or third generation Japanese American, Mura has written two memoirs: Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei (Anchor-Random), which won a 1991 Josephine Miles Book Award from the Oakland PEN and was listed in the New York Times Notable Books of Year, and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity (1996, Anchor). Michelle Chen works and plays in New York City. Besides freelance reporting, her various occupations have included ethnographic research in Shanghai and coatchecking at a West Village jazz club. Her writing has also appeared in Colorlines, In These Times, Ms. Magazine, Womenâ€™s International Perspective, South China Morning Post, and her old zine, cain. Ranjani Murali recently graduated from George Mason's MFA Poetry program. Her poetry has been published in elimae and Indefinite Space and her translations have appeared in Phoebe. Her work was part of George Mason's Annual Fall for the Book exhibits in 2009 and 2010. She was married in India in a ceremony spanning three days and is recovering from its after-effects in her quiet Chicago apartment. Emi Hattori was born at Heartmountain Relocation Camp during World War II. This is her first publication. She has studied writing for the past few decades at UCLA Extension and is currently working on a picture book with her daughter and a collection of creative non-fiction essays.
ART/PHOTOGRAPHY Scott Shibuya Brown is author of the novel Far Afield (Red Hen Press) and the forthcoming Big in Japan. A former journalist for Time Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, his work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Atlantic Monthly and LA Weekly, among other publications. He currently teaches at California State University, Northridge, and plays in the punk band Finland Station.
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SUBMISSION GUIDELINES The editorial board reviews submissions on a rolling basis. Thus, we accept submissions by electronic mail year-round. Please do not send previously published work. We accept simultaneous submissions, but ask that you notify the respective editor immediately when your submission has been accepted elsewhere. Submit online with the submishmashâ„˘ submissions manager:
http://kartikareview.submishmash.com/Submit Fiction | Attn: Christine Lee Zilka Short stories, experimental or interpretive works of fiction, flash fiction and microfiction pieces fall under our category of fiction. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer works under 7,500 words. Poetry | Attn: Kenji Liu Narrative, prose, or lyrical poetry, free verse, eastern or western poetic forms, or works meant as spoken word are all welcome as poetry. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer works under 2,500 words. Creative Nonfiction | Attn: Jennifer Derilo For creative nonfiction, we are particularly interested in works (memoir, reportage, letters, essay, etc.) that touch on themes including--but not limited to--identity, memory, family, culture, history, trauma, dislocation. Alternative formats and subject matter are nonetheless welcome. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer works under 7,500 words.
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ÂŠ December 31, 2010 by Kartika Review